When my nephew Nicholas was about 2, he started showing signs of autism.
It seemed subtle at first—a lack of responsiveness, eyes that never really met yours—but as he got older, the disorder grew more apparent, and severe.
Nicholas is now 16 and has a difficult time doing things we all take for granted—and he has no "filter," socially.
Here's the question that worries my family, and has for a dozen years: Where will he go as he gets older? Where will he live? There’s no housing for people like him, not in our county anyway.
My sister started a fund—along with a few other local families touched by autism—to set up a private group home where they could all live and be taken care of as adults.
But anybody in this business knows, the insurance, the regulations, the on-site services needed to pull something like that off is beyond the means of a few middle-class families.
The fact that my sister felt she had to take the problem into her own hands ... well, that's the problem.
That’s why an article like Donna Kimura’s “Minnesota Development to Serve Adults with Developmental Disabilities” nearly had me in tears.
Not because the language she used was emotional—it was a project profile after all—but because of the gaping need for such housing, a need the Asciertos feel deeply nearly every day of our life, up close and personal.
Here’s an excerpt from her story that sums up the problem:
Since institutionalization ended in the 1970s, a majority of adults with developmental disabilities have lived at home with a parent or relative. But a quarter of these caregivers are now 60 years or older and will increasingly need care themselves.
In the wealthiest nation in the world, I believe we have a moral obligation to house our most vulnerable citizens. Much more housing like this is needed as the Autism epidemic continues to grow.
I donate some time and money to the cause, but I’m not a developer, I’m not in a position to solve this problem, not even locally, not even for Nicholas, who I love.
It’s a helpless feeling.
So, fighting back tears as I type this, I urge all affordable developers and faith-based organizations to consider this underserved population in their plans.
The case study Donna profiled was led by a faith organization, and maybe that’s the answer—religious institutions partnering with private or nonprofit developers.
But where’s the money to build it? The low-income housing tax credit is stretched beyond capacity and wasn’t intended for this population to begin with.
It’s a question of federal housing policy, and how we prioritize our resources. Our military has more than 4,700 nuclear weapons—maybe 4,600 is enough to blow up the world seven times over. Maybe some of that money could be used for shelter.
It’s a problem many are unaware of—adult housing for those with developmental disabilities—because you never think it will happen to your family. When it does happen—when your family is touched by it—you see the world a little differently.
You see, clearly, how many people aren’t even looking at the problem.
As an industry, and as a nation, we need to turn compassion into action. One day, Nicholas can just walk out the door of my sister or mother’s home, and never come back.
The question we struggle with every day is “Who will lock that door when he’s 26 or 36 or 46?”